Q: My friend related the following incident: “This morning, the chazzan in our shul skipped La’menatzei’ach because he thought that it was not supposed to be said today. Then, after U’va l’Tzion, one of the mispallelim called out, ‘La’menatzei’ach!’ to remind everyone that it should be said.”
I expressed my opinion that the person who called out was guilty of publicly embarrassing his fellow Jew, since he shamed the chazzan who made the mistake. Afterwards, I began to wonder whether that statement was a violation of lashon hara. Even if I was allowed to hear the story that was told “without names,” by telling the friend my negative opinion about the person’s calling out the correction, perhaps I was guilty of speaking lashon hara about that mispallel.
Do I have to be concerned about violating the prohibition of lashon hara in such a case, when I am expressing an opinion about someone’s conduct without knowing who that person is?
A: In principle, it would appear to be a clear violation of lashon hara to express a negative opinion about someone’s behavior, even though the one giving the opinion does not know who the object of his words is, because he is saying it to someone who does know to whom his words are directed. But, in practice, there are few incidents when one would be guilty of transgression, because in most cases, there is a heter of l’to’eles.
In this case, for example, where the friend reports that he saw the mispallel’s deed that shamed the chazzan, it was permitted to express the opinion that this was a transgression of publicly embarrassing someone, so that his friend telling the story would not learn from the sinner’s deed. Consequently, there was no violation of the prohibition of lashon hara here.
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